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  • Seeking a Better Future: The English Pioneers of Ontario and Quebec by Lucille H. Campey
  • Jane Errington
Seeking a Better Future: The English Pioneers of Ontario and Quebec. Lucille H. Campey. Toronto: Dundurn, 2012. Pp. 528, $35.00

Seeking a Better Future is the second of a three-volume series exploring English migration and settlement to British America / Canada in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Author Lucille Campey appreciates that this is a difficult subject. The English were (and often are) not a recognized ethnic group (unlike the Scots, the Irish, and the Welsh); their migration from the British Isles was often overlooked at the time, and they are notoriously difficult to track once they arrived in the New World. Others, including Bruce Elliott and Wendy Cameron, have effectively considered the dynamics of a particular emigration scheme, or examined patterns of migration and settlement to try to tickle out who came from England and why. Lucille Campey seeks to present a more comprehensive account and to celebrate the achievements of the thousands of English settlers in Upper and Lower Canada, Ontario and Quebec. [End Page 464]

The research that provides the foundation for this study, undertaken in numerous English county records offices, the National Public Record office at Kew, and collections in Library and Archives Canada is impressive. As we know, only a minority of those who boarded ships bound for the New World left any account of their experiences, and official records are notoriously incomplete. Campey mines obscure emigrant and settler letters, scattered shipping lists, promotional pamphlets, and government records on both sides of the Atlantic to help give voice to all too often forgotten English emigrant-settlers. Genealogists and others in both Canada and the United Kingdom who are trying to track down family members will find fascinating the numerous tables and lengthy appendix, that include lists of migrants from specific regions or tabulations of expenses and details of emigrant shipping between 1817 and 1864. And the text includes tantalizing snippets of information about the lives of individuals and families both at “home” and in the colonies. As Campey emphasizes, most were “ordinary” people who had a determination to succeed, and many did.

Seeking a Better Future is intended for a general audience, not scholars of migration and settlement. Campey tells some good stories that highlight, in broad strokes, the push factors that propelled English men, women, and children to leave home – unemployment, the dislocation that accompanied industrialization, and the rapid changes in agricultural practices – and those factors that pulled them to Quebec and Ontario – the opportunity of land and jobs, despite the daunting prospect of leaving the security of home. The volume is organized primarily around place of settlement, starting with the stories of those few who on arrival made their home south and west of Montreal and in the Eastern Townships and then moves west through various regions of Upper Canada / Ontario. In addition to a chapter on English emigration in the latter half of the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries, when the numbers and proportion of English migrants increased substantially, Seeking a Better Future also includes an evocative description of the Atlantic voyage and a discussion of “Canada’s Appeal to the English,” which Campey acknowledges was second to that of the United States for most of the century.

Despite the often painstaking research, unfortunately, Seeking a Better Future adds little to the growing body of scholarly work on migration and settlement in Quebec and Ontario. Campey does not engage with the current debates and conversations about the nature of British and particularly English migration in the nineteenth century, and this book lacks an overarching narrative and any real analysis. Campey [End Page 465] has also chosen to identify “English” very broadly, and this often confuses the story. For example, she devotes a chapter to “The Loyalist Immigrants,” even though, as she acknowledges, those of English ancestry were only a small minority of these refugees and most were “independent-minded Yankees” whose “ethnic links were very distant” (16). Moreover, in the two chapters on English settlement in Quebec, the reader could easily confuse “English” settlers with English-speakers; and throughout the...


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